THE WRITING LIFE – attempting a detailed outline

In my last post, I talked about the huge decision to put the novel I was working on aside. I’ve recovered from the trauma now, although I’m still missing my lovely character whose company I’d been enjoying. I’ll go back to her, though, and in the meantime, I’m hoping the deepest parts of my subconscious will be playing around with ideas for her story.

In the meantime, I have a book to write. As I said last time, my agent has long been trying to persuade me to become more of a planner than a pantster. She suggested I write a detailed synopsis – not the one or two page selling synopsis you’d send to an agent, but a much longer document, possibly as much as six pages, showing how the plot develops, what the characters’ motivations are, where the dramatic events occur, and quite importantly, how it ends. I have tried several times to do this in the past and failed. But I promised I’d give it a go and so I settled down to the painful task of trying to wrench an entire story from somewhere deep within the creative part of my brain.

I won’t give away too much about the new book, but suffice to say there will be mention of crows, and this picture  really chimes with me in terms of the atmosphere, at least in the past strand of the novel

The first day yielded but a paragraph or two. It was vague, I didn’t know much about the characters, and nothing much was happening. By the time I forced myself to open the document again a few days later, I had a little more to go on. I’d started to feel pleased with myself when I’d written a whole page, until it dawned on me that everything I’d written up to that point was back story. Which is all well and good, because I do need to know the back story, but I was supposed to be writing about what happens in the book. I tried again over several days, adding little bits here and there, trying to work out what it was that motivated my two female characters.

What was nagging at me was that I was far more interested in one of these women than the other. And then I thought, so why am I not just telling her story from her point of view? Her story is so much stronger, and if I try to force a story on to the other character, it’ll show. Almost at the same point as I made the decision to stick to one viewpoint, I realised that Leah, in whom I’m the most interested, was in fact a character from a short story I wrote some years ago, but she had appeared to me in disguise and so I hadn’t recognised her. The moment I realised who she was and I remembered her tragic and rather frightening back story, everything seemed to fall into place.

I started to look forward to opening the document entitled Synopsis, book 4B, And within a couple of days I had written a 3000 word synopsis with all the major points in place and a possible ending  I read it, I liked it, it seemed to make sense. This has NEVER happened to me before, and so I naturally assumed that I was missing something. But then the OH read it, and he liked it. But he’s not a writer. So then I gave it to a couple of writing mates and they liked it too. And then, oh joy of joy, I sne it to my agent, and she liked it. My editor has yet to see it, but I’m feeling confident, and I’ve made a start, and given that I have the story mapped out, I’ve set myself a target of 1000 words a day which, so far, I’ve stuck to.

I’m so excited about this that I feel I have more to say, but I’ll leave it for another post.

Other things going on in my Writing Life at the moment:

  • Just finished the copy edits for What She Lost, which will be out in January, so that feels a step nearer. 
  • This coming Saturday, 23rd of July, is the last in the current series of How to Write a novel workshops. This one is called Steps to Publication – we’ll be looking at traditional, digital, and self-publishing, we’ll show you how to write a query letter and offer some one-to-one feedback, and we’ll also advise you on writing a synopsis. All for £40 for the day – it really is a bargain! Full details are on the workshops page of My website

That’s about it, I think, but please do follow me on Facebook or say hello on Twitter

8 thoughts on “THE WRITING LIFE – attempting a detailed outline

  1. JO says:

    Good for you! I read some synopsis advice once (for what it's worth – advice is simply one person's point of view) – write the beginning, then write end, then the pivotal scene, and build it from there. It works for me – you clearly found the right way for you.

  2. Juana says:

    So happy to read you managed to start with your new novel… and this from zero, and by using a totally different approach! Perhaps this is a lesson for me, too, as I usually write by instinct with very little planned in advance and end up by losing myself in the plot and twists and too many notes.
    Looking forward to reading about your progress in your next post now!

  3. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    I never has until now – thought it was impossible, turns out it isn't. Painful, definitely, in the same way it is when you stall along the way, but I got there in the end. We'll see how it turns out!

  4. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    That's exactly how I usually work! I have tried to plan in the past, But it never really worked. Maybe I gave up too soon? It'll be interesting to see not only how this novel works out, but whether I am able to pull off this planning lark a second time. Watch this space!

  5. Jan Baynham says:

    This was such an interesting post for me, Susan. I'm at the stage where I'm trying to write a more detailed outline for novel number 2. My first novel was a dual narrative and my planning wasn't nearly thorough enough to ensure the two stories fitted together well. I shall follow your progress in your future posts. 🙂

  6. Susan Elliot Wright says:

    Thank you, Jan. I sympathise with your struggle with the dual narrative – I've done that in various ways for the first three novels and have got in a mess every single time. Shame, because I love dual narratives. Good luck with the outline for your second novel. I've found it incredibly useful. Do let me know how you get on.

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